Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?


For me, the answer is yes. However, it’s not the cause of my mental illness but a trigger for an episode of bipolar mania or depression. It’s usually coupled with other triggers such as; a lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, or not taking medication.

I’ve been through many occasions where stress has had an impact on my mental illness. When the pressures of work have become too much, I find myself spiralling. The most likely repercussion is an episode of mania. The stress will disappear and I will become a whirlwind of energy and activity. Misdirected this energy can lead to reckless behaviour and I’ll find myself in dangerous situations. Mania also leads to obsession. Either with my work, with colleagues I dislike, or on projects in my personal life. I talk about one example in detail in the post Unhealthy Obsession

Often I don’t realise I’m stressed until I start showing signs of mania and then at that point I don’t care that stress has caused me to feel so euphoric. Of course with bipolar, being so hyperactive and full of relentless energy, I have to come down sooner or later. I talk about this feeling in the post The Mania Hangover . Then the stress I’m under really hits me, as I fall into a depressive state. There have been many times when for whatever reason I am already manic or depressed when a stressful situation pops into my life. Depending on the type of episode I’m experiencing, my reactions and ways of coping will differ dramatically.

Although stress can make us feel ill, a mental health condition has to already be there, whether it’s known to you or not, to trigger a mental illness. We all go through times of stress where we feel run down, lacking energy and generally feel overwhelmed by life. If you’re susceptible to depression or anxiety, the stresses of life can definitely trigger these. I find with bipolar disorder, which I continually live with, stress exacerbates the condition. I’ve learnt that I have to manage the stressors in my life and face up to the causes. Whether that be my job, a relationship, or money worries I need to assess the impact they are having to my stress levels, and ultimately my mental health.

Workplaces in particular need to work with individuals to create an environment that eases daily pressures. Society needs to be more compassionate and provide aid to those struggling for money and living in poverty. I grew up in a household where both my parents worked, yet we struggled financially. I know firsthand as a child and then as an adult how much stress is caused every month when bills are overdue and you have no way of paying them.

If you go through stressful situations but don’t have a mental illness that’s great! But don’t judge those that do. It doesn’t make the person weak or less resilient because stress triggers their mental illness. In times of extreme stress those with mental illnesses suffer; it’s unavoidable.


5 thoughts on “Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?

  1. thank you for your post Katie, it taught me a bit more about you, as we had discussed this topic on our first skype, in small portions. Now, I know and understand it better.

    I find stressors to overwhelming to me ; probably because of my GAD, chronic depression and mood swings (resulting from cptsd), and thus I struggle to cope, so I can totally relate with that & the need to find balance in managing each cause, though I never feel that I do it right.

    I didn’t know that a mentalh health must be there to be triggered, as at some point, maybe a stressor starts it, no ? then again, I’ve lived with cptsd all my life, so I have no frame of reference to a life situation where there is a before mental illness, and after it started. For me, it simply has always been, which is why I just don’t see a pre-trauma condition to regain, and must build my new self from scratch.
    I do hope that judgement from those who don’t understand because they don’t experience mental illness can finally come to an end…

  2. Oh yes! Stress for me simply exacerbates absolutely everything. Whether it’s a headache or a cold or a black dog day, stress makes it ten times worse! Great post. Thanks, Katie x

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